Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2015 Dodge Charger: First Drive


By William Jackson

Dodge shoots for a broad market with its redesigned Charger, aiming to be a practical family sedan that, if so desired, can have 707 horsepower under the hood. In doing so, Dodge has the unenviable job of making a mass-market car for enthusiasts.

Related: Dodge Prices 2015 Charger Lineup

Of course, it's one thing to stuff an enormous engine in a sedan and call it a family car, or to take a track monster and claim it can handle grocery runs. It's a whole other thing to actually pull it off in the real world. Early impressions indicate that Dodge largely succeeds.



If you saw the Charger at the 2014 New York International Auto Show, you saw something that doesn't do justice to the new look. That car at the auto show looked too much like a Charger with a Dodge Dart's nose grafted onto it.

In person — especially on trims where the grille bodywork is body colored — it's a much better look, and it helps the Charger establish its own personality. The car looks lower, wider and more aggressive in person than photos might indicate. That's the first thing I noticed about the Charger. The second thing I noticed is the car looks significantly smaller.

Dodge has said it "shrink-wrapped" the car for a more efficient look, and I think it goes a long way toward making the Charger a more modern car. Previous Chargers always seemed to have a few odd angles like it had been stretched on a rack, but with this new look, it's more taut. It keeps some of the old Charger DNA with the scallops on the side, and that's a good choice.


How it Drives

I'll get this out of the way: Yes, I drove the 707-hp SRT Hellcat; yes it was on a track, and no, there were no speed limits. The SRT Hellcat is a fun car that feels smaller than it is, but you never forget that it's also a heavy car. (SRT Hellcat Chargers weigh more than 4,000 pounds.)

SRT engineers suggested we drive the Hellcats with a "slow in, fast out" approach to corners, and it pays off in spades. If you overcook it, the car tends to understeer and remind you of all that weight.

But, with attention to the braking points, a smooth entry and a smooth application of the power as you exit the turn, the car really hooks up and slings you down the straightaway where you get to really, really enjoy all the horsepower of the supercharged V-8. It sounds glorious, by the way.

Keeping the slow in/fast out approach in mind also helps through tight, technical turns too. The Hellcat wouldn't be my first choice to try to win an autocross event, but in the right hands, it will surprise people.

While the performance, speed and fun of the Hellcat are all fine and good, these versions are the halo cars of the Dodge brand. Most buyers will pick a sedan that they won't get to drive in a no-limits track environment. So I also drove a R/T with the Premium option package with the 370-hp, 5.7-liter V-8, performance-tuned suspension and 20-inch wheels on a mixed drive through highways and slower, rural roads. We'll have a test of the base V-6 power plant at a later date.

With the R/T it was obvious that Dodge didn't want the Charger to be a muscle car that was only great at going fast in a straight line, rearranged your spine on every bump and required brawn to turn the wheel or apply the brakes. The car felt taut — but not abusively so — on rough pavement and was more than capable of performing duty as a comfortable cruiser.

The Charger has new electric power steering that dials up the assist for parking lots and allows more feedback at highway speeds. It's well done and unobtrusive.



While the Charger's outside has been radically changed, the interior has received less dramatic updates. Despite this, there are now a whopping 19 interior configurations ranging from cloth to leather to what Dodge calls sport leather, as well as SRT-specific interiors. There's a new T-shaped gear selector for the standard automatic transmission as well as a new 7-inch digital display in the gauges, also standard on all trims.

In addition, there's either a 5.0- or 8.4-inch multimedia display in the center stack (sadly those screens still are the only way to control the heated and ventilated seats) and a new steering wheel. The SRT models get a flat-bottomed wheel.


Overall, the interior's mix of materials is above average in all the various models I tested. I was a bit disappointed in the set of physical controls beneath the touch-screen — they looked like they were carried over from lesser Chrysler Group cars — but everything else that I used, touched or felt was of good quality.



Since Dodge is aiming to cover a broad range with one car, not surprisingly it could be a bit overwhelming for shoppers.

There are nine total models: SE, SE AWD, SXT AWD, R/T, R/T Road & Track, R/T Scat Pack, SRT 392 and SRT Hellcat. There are multiple engines: A 3.6-liter V-6 that can make either 292 or 300 hp depending on which options you select; a 370-hp, 5.7-liter V-8; a 485-hp, 6.4-liter V-8; and the SRT Hellcat, with 707 hp coming from a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 engine. V-6 models have optional all-wheel drive, while other Chargers are rear-wheel drive.

On top of that, there are the following option packages: 20-inch Wheel Sport Appearance Group; AWD Plus Group; AWD Premium Group; Plus Group, Popular Equipment Group; Premium Group; Rallye Group; Sport Appearance Group; Scat Pack Leather Group and more. Granted not all of those packages are available on all nine models, but still that's a lot of variables to consider (and packages to pay for) before leaving the dealer's lot. There comes a point where trying to be all things to all people can drive you batty.


The true measure of the Charger's success is how well it executes at actually covering that range.

On the track, the Hellcat rips down straightaways and can handle twisty stuff too. The Charger is also a comfortable car that conquers mixed highway-and-country-road driving. All with an interior that was already pretty good but made a little better.

The test of Dodge's execution will continue since we've only crossed two versions off car- shoppers' lists. We'll of course drive them but also put them through our battery of child-safety seat tests. Early signs, though, are encouraging.

Manufacturer photos; Cars.com photos by William Jackson

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